School & District Management

Pediatricians: Start School Later So Teens Get Enough Sleep

By Kathryn Baron — August 25, 2014 5 min read
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Teens have a new ally in their quest to sleep in—their doctors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement recommending that middle and high schools delay the start of school until at least 8:30 a.m.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common—and easily fixable—public health issues in the U.S. today,” said Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center and the lead author of “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the current issue of Pediatrics.

said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics. - See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.latuDaUP.dpufz

Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common - and easily fixable - public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics. - See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.latuDaUP.dpuf

Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common - and easily fixable - public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics. - See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.latuDaUP.dpuf

Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common - and easily fixable - public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics. - See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.latuDaUP.dpuf

Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

The policy statement is accompanied by a technical report, “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on Causes and Consequences,” also published online Aug. 25. The technical report updates a prior report on excessive sleepiness among adolescents that was published in 2005.

The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights. The AAP recommends pediatricians counsel teens and parents about healthy sleep habits, including enforcing a media curfew. The AAP also advises health care professionals to educate parents, educators, athletic coaches and other stakeholders about the biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep.

But the evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents. An estimated 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.

Napping, extending sleep on weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep, according to the AAP.

The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.

“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Dr. Owens said. “By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”
- See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx#sthash.latuDaUP.dpuf

The AAP article says surveys have found that 59 percent of middle schoolers and 87 percent of high school students are getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. As I recently reported in this blog, research suggests that not getting enough sleep is responsible for a number education, health, and safety problems, including low grades, poor eating habits, depression and a greater likelihood of being involved in car accidents.

About 40 percent of U.S. high schools start classes before 8 a.m., and just 15 percent begin after 8:30 a.m. according to a technical report accompanying the policy statement, titled “Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents and Young Adults: An Update on the Causes and Consequences.”

The AAP cites a variety of reasons that teens stay up so late, including homework, extracurricular activities, and after-school jobs. They also spend a lot of time online at night. Biology plays a significant role. A change in teens’ circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, keeps them from even getting tired until 11 p.m.

Some of those are also arguments given by school officials against delaying start times, such as cutting into after-school athletic practices and scheduling of games, according to the policy statement.

“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” said Dr. Owens in the AAP statement. “By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delays as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.


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